“You’ve got to get rid of that cat. It’s going to suffocate your newborn.”
That bit of advice came from someone who loves me dearly, but that doesn’t mean he’s never wrong. My father. An intelligent and well-informed man who is right on so many matters. But when my first baby was only days old, and I was still in the hospital, he was plotting to get rid of my cat to save the life of his grandson.
I was pretty sure it was an old wives’ tale, but not so sure that I didn’t Google it immediately to double check the facts, which are these: Cats do not suffocate babies, but scratches are common and some cats may be attracted to the wool in the baby’s blanket. Train your cat to stay out of baby’s crib, as dander and the bacteria in a cat’s mouth can tax your newborn’s developing immune system.
Good news: The cat is still with us and my two children (and I) have survived the good and bad advice I’ve received over the past two years as a new parent.
Most people give advice to be helpful, and within families, you’ve got grandmothers, great-grandmothers, granddad and Uncle Harry all weighing in on your parenting skills – which, let’s face it, grow with time and experience. In my career as a digital strategist, I rarely second guess myself. But as a parent? I’m new at this and a little wobbly. One crucial thing about parenting is that parents don’t know. The first few years really are trial and error. Nobody does it perfectly, and never will. It’s human nature. How do you learn to trust yourself amidst the well-meaning tsunami of family advice?
My Texan grandmother Mama Lane grew up with spanking as the norm, and her love advice on men, “Treat ‘em mean and keep ‘em keen,” was just never my style. Elena, my nanny, believes babies should be overdressed to ward off colds. One of the worst pieces of advice: tape a coin to my baby’s herniated belly button to push it down (this is known to cause infections and is an old wives’ tale).
My definition of good advice comes from Lao Tzu: “Guiding without interfering.” If your family lives nearby or visits often, you’re likely to have a large amount of both going on. Though learning from others’ experience is great, sometimes you want – even need – to make your own mistakes. Sometimes you’re just trying to figure things out yourself in the daily whirlwind of raising your kids.
How do you sort through the good advice and the bad? At times you will have to define your boundaries, especially when the motherly advice gets down to where to place your sofa or what flowers to plant in your garden.
Try to be gracious to all suggestions, and accept only what works for you. If you try somebody’s tip and it actually helps, be sure to thank them for it. (Thanks to my uncle for that tip.)
In wading through the 1001 suggestions, ask yourself: Does it help, uplift, resolve some issue or give you a new viewpoint that helps you work through it?
The best advice I ever got was also the simplest: Follow your instincts.
The most important thing you can give your children is love. Focus on that and the rest will fall into place.
What was the best and worst advice you ever received?